Instagram needs to make up its mind what it is

instagramWhat is Instagram? Photo-sharing social media platform, clearly. But more broadly: is it a technology company, media company or e-commerce platform? Probably a bit of all.

Instagram-like Facebook and Google- likes to consider itself a tech company, according to WPP chief executive Martin Sorrell who never grows tired of making this point.

He made it again at the Football Leaders conference just weeks ago.

Sorrell said:

“Google is not a technology company, it is a media owner. Twitter is not a technology company, it is a media owner. Facebook is not a tech company, it is a media owner.

“These companies, Instagram, Pinterest, all are media owners. They want to masquerade as tech companies because being a media owner you have certain rights and certain responsibilities I think they like to try and get away from that.”

Presumably what Sorrell is getting at is the blurred area of who takes responsibility for the content that appears on social networks, compared to say a traditional media owner such as The Daily Telegraph. If The Daily Telegraph messes up a story, it is responsible.

Instagram is now in the spotlight – like sister site Facebook was over decapitation clips-as users in the US are using it to trade guns.

That is not all; a cursory search through, reveals prescription-only drugs up for grabs.

As the Daily Beast-which broke the story-pointed out, Instagram is not an e-commerce site, unlike eBay and Craigslist, so unlike them doesn’t have policies barring the sales of guns.

And while the laws vary from state to state, there is no federal law banning online sales of guns in the US.

It must be stressed that there are no examples of this happening in the UK, though Instagram is thought to be on red-alert for any mimicry of what is happening in the US.

Mind you, you would have to be pretty foolhardy to intersperse the usual Instagram fare of party pics and scenic views with a gun-toting marksman offering a “top deal on an AK47”.

Some of the guns being traded on Instagram, such as semi-automatic guns, are banned in the UK while those found trading guns without a recognised certificate would face minimum five year sentences, experts warned.

As Iain Overton, director of policy & investigation at campaigning group Action of Armed Violence, said: “The advertising of any gun on British social media would stand out like a sore thumb and would probably result in a visit from your neighbouring policeman.”

But it does raise the question of whether Instagram is evolving into e-commerce platform without rules? And if so, then rules surely need to be introduced, as otherwise it will surely  open a Pandora’s box.

The likelihood is that with no rules in play, gun vendors will begin flocking to Instagram to sell their wares. And all this content will be free to view from anyone who wants to take inspiration from it!